Sunday, March 10, 2019 “Temptation and Triumph through Scripture”

Sunday, March 10, 2019  "Temptation and Triumph through Scripture"

The message for Sunday, March 10, 2019 “Temptation and Triumph through Scripture” by Pastor Erik Goehner heard during the 8:00, 9:30 and 11:00AM Worship service.


Temptation and Triumph through Scripture”       Luke 4:1-13    March 10, 2019

Has Scripture ever given you strength through a difficult time?  As Christians we would probably readily agree that Scripture can help us to triumph over difficult situations in our life.  But are we as aware that Scripture might also lead us into temptation?  Both triumph and temptation through Scripture are on display today as we witness Jesus navigating a difficult encounter with the Devil in the story we just heard from Luke.

The Devil begins his temptations of Jesus with an obvious attack.  Jesus is physically vulnerable after being out in the wilderness fasting for forty days.  His body is weak and hungry so the devil goes after his physical desires.  He says if Jesus is really God’s son then he could just turn stones into bread.  Jesus triumphs over this temptation with Scripture as he quotes Deuteronomy 8:3   and says “It is written that one does not live by bread alone”.

Then the Devil goes for a psychological temptation.  His appeals to the human desire for control and power and comes at Jesus with a bargain.  The Devil will give him all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will just bow down to him.  Again Jesus triumphs through Scripture.  He quotes Deuteronomy 6:13 and says, “It is written, worship the Lord your God and serve God only.”

By the now the Devil is catching on to this pattern and so he thinks he can catch Jesus in a trap with a spiritual temptation that uses Jesus’ own approach against him.  This time the Devil begins with ‘It is written”.  He uses the same language Jesus has been using and quotes his own Scripture.  He takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple and tells him to jump off,  saying, “For it is written, God will command his angels concerning you to protect you, and on their hands they will bear you up so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”

The Scripture the devil quotes is from Psalm 91. This is a wonderful Psalm about finding rest and protection in God’s care.  It starts out by saying the one who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty and will say of the Lord that God is my refuge.  I have personally shared this Psalm with many people over the years at a bedside in the hospital or in their home when they have been ill or dying and it has brought comfort and peace to them.

But Satan uses it to challenge Jesus.  He says if it is true then Jesus should be able to jump off the highest point of the temple and survive.  Satan is using Scripture to try and tempt Jesus into doing a magic trick to prove his connection to God.  He is asking Jesus to put his life at risk in an unnecessary way.  He is attempting to control and manipulate Jesus.  Satan takes a beautiful verse from Psalms and about God supporting us and twists it in a way in order to cast doubt on God’s power.

Do you know of ways where the Holy Scripture in the Bible has been twisted to hurt people? Are you aware of ways the Bible has been used to exclude, control, manipulate or condemn?  Are we ever tempted to use Scripture in ways that might benefit us at the expense of others?  How can we be more cautious about the ways we use Scripture so that it does not cast doubt on God or drive people away from God, but rather brings them closer to God?

This last week the United Methodist church was in the news because their national convention had a major debate, and discussion around the topic of greater openness and inclusion for churches doing ministry with those who are of the LGBTQ community.   There was a vote on a plan to allow for more acceptance versus a plan that would hold with a more traditional view and go back to being more restrictive to how pastors and churches could or could not do ministry with those people who happen to be of the same sex orientation. This was similar to the debate and vote our church went through ten years ago in 2009 when our ELCA convention voted to try and be more open and inclusive to those of the LGBTQ community.  Sadly, in my opinion, the Methodist church did not decide to go in that direction, although there are many within the church who wished they had.

On Monday I was listening to a radio show where they were interviewing two different Methodist pastors on both sides of the issue.  At one point the pastor who had helped draft the traditional plan said that Jesus was very clear about marriage and he cited the Scripture where Jesus quotes Genesis and says that a man shall leave his mother and father and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.  This didn’t surprise me, but as I’ve wondered before about this passage, was Jesus trying to exclude a whole group of people when he said this?  Was his intent to lay down a legal definition of marriage that would stand for all time? Was his intent to say that those of same-sex orientation had to change or could not be in an intimate relationship?

I don’t believe so.  When you look at the context where Jesus quotes Genesis, particularly in Matthew chapter nineteen, the real reason he says this is to call out a bunch of religious leaders who were all presumably heterosexual males, because they were becoming too cavalier and casual in their views towards husbands who were dismissing their wives through divorce.  Their hearts had become hardened and Jesus was reminding them of the importance of commitment in relationships.  I don’t believe Jesus said what he did to exclude a group of people. Rather I believe he was lifting up the values of faithfulness, unity and integrity in intimate relationships.  But instead of using this verse to lift up these values, this passage often gets used to try and legally exclude a whole group of people, many of whom only want to uphold these same values through marriage.

Pastor Marc Alan Schelske tells of a time when he was in his church office, and a woman, sitting in the chair across from him, was crying. His heart was breaking for her. She had just confessed to him—apparently embarrassed and ashamed—that she felt enormous anger about the Bible. There were parts she couldn’t even bring herself to read!

Hearing her story, Pastor Mark wondered how she had hung in with the church for so long. She said it was because she loved Jesus; she was so moved by who Jesus is, and what He had meant in her life. But Paul! That was another thing, for many of Paul’s verses had been used to shut down conversation with her, to put her in her place, to explain her story away, to cut her out of community. She wasn’t arguing with Paul or suggesting his ideas were culturally bound. This wasn’t an intellectual disagreement. This was pain! People had used these words to exclude and demean her. Whole sections of the Bible were clouded over in the fog of these experiences. Something meant to be life-giving has been used to harm, to limit, to silence and exclude.  In this way, the Bible can become a bludgeon. Some people wielding the Bible in this way even think they are helping, or doing something in love. But instead of these words giving life, they can do damage.

This brings something clearly into focus: Some people wield scripture as a way to justify their own authority. Some use scripture as a means of control and manipulation. When this becomes clear–especially if you learn the verses were used out of context, or without concern for the nuance of the text–you can hold the perpetrators responsible, instead of the text that was misused against you.  Remember, one person’s or one group’s interpretation of the Bible isn’t the final word.  The Bible is a living library of books written over many centuries in many different contexts.  It still holds truth relevant for today, but we continually wrestle with its meaning for our lives in this day and age.  If there are particular parts of the Bible you have struggled with or maybe have even been used to hurt you, it would be my honor and privilege as a pastor in this place to walk with you through your questions or grief.  Please feel free to contact me through the church office. 

In today’s text Satan uses Scripture to tempt and try to control and hurt Jesus.  In response, Jesus does not abandon Scripture or throw away the Bible, but he interprets it in a way that exposes how Satan is abusing Scripture.  Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 16:6 and says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”.  He lifts up the mystery of God as one that is not meant to be manipulated or used in destructive ways.  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus we see this theme lifted up even more strongly. We see that as the definitive Word of God Jesus demonstrates that grace triumphs over condemnation, and mercy triumphs over judgment. So let us not be led into temptation by using Scripture to put down or exclude others. Rather let us be free in Christ to lift up the Word of God in a way that is life-giving.  Amen.   

 –Pastor Erik Goehner